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Powerful Earthquake Hits Morocco, Thousands Feared Killed

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A rare, powerful earthquake that struck Morocco toppled buildings in mountainous villages and ancient cities not built to withstand such force. More than 2,000 people were killed, and the toll is expected to rise as rescuers struggled Saturday to reach hard-hit remote areas.

The 6.8-magnitude quake, the biggest to hit the North African country in 120 years, sent people fleeing their homes in terror and disbelief late Friday.

One man said dishes and wall hangings began raining down, and people were knocked off their feet. The quake brought down walls made from stone and masonry, covering whole communities with rubble.

The devastation gripped each town along the steep and winding switchbacks of the High Atlas in similar ways: homes folding in on themselves and mothers and fathers crying as boys and helmet-clad police carried the dead through the streets.

Remote villages like those in the drought-stricken Ouargane Valley were largely cut off from the world when they lost electricity and cellphone service. By midday, people were outside mourning neighbours, surveying the damage on their camera phones and telling one another “May God save us.”

Hamid Idsalah, a 72-year-old mountain guide, said he and many others remained alive but had little future to look forward to. That was true in the short-term — with remnants of his kitchen reduced to dust — and in the long-term — where he and many others lack the financial means to rebound.

“I can’t reconstruct my home. I don’t know what I’ll do. Still, I’m alive, so I’ll wait,” he said as he walked through the desert oasis town overlooking red rock hills, packs of goats and a glistening salt lake. “I feel heartsick.”

Famed mosque damaged

In historic Marrakech, people could be seen on state TV clustering in the streets, afraid to go back inside buildings that might still be unstable.

The city’s famous Koutoubia Mosque, built in the 12th century, sustained damage, but the extent was not immediately clear. Its 69-metre minaret is known as the “roof of Marrakech.”

Moroccans also posted videos showing damage to parts of the famous red walls that surround the old city, a UNESCO World Heritage site.

At least 2,012 people died, mostly in Marrakech and five provinces near the quake’s epicentre, Morocco’s Interior Ministry reported Saturday evening. Another 2,059 people were injured — 1,404 critically — the ministry said.

“The problem is that where destructive earthquakes are rare, buildings are simply not constructed robustly enough to cope with strong ground shaking, so many collapse, resulting in high casualties,” said Bill McGuire, professor emeritus of geophysical and climate hazards at University College London.

About a dozen Canadians attending a UNESCO conference in Marrakech are safe, according to John Norman, the mayor of Bonavista, N.L. He was awoken in his hotel room Friday night.

“I think everyone is in a bit of shock,” Norman, who is also the chair of the Discovery UNESCO Global Geopark on the Bonavista Peninsula, told CBC News.

Canada’s foreign affairs minister, Mélanie Joly, urged Canadians in Morocco to register with Global Affairs Canada.  She said Canadians there who need help should contact the federal Emergency Watch and Response Centre, which can provide emergency consular assistance.

Marrakech resident Amanda Mouttaki was talking to family members living outside the country when the earthquake hit on Friday. She initially thought a plane might be coming down, as she and her husband live near the airport.

“Things started falling off the walls,” Mouttaki, who is originally from Michigan, told CBC News Network on Saturday.

She and her husband quickly grabbed their five-year-old son and fled into the street. “Everybody was on the streets, just crying and trying to figure out what happened,” she said.

In a sign of the huge scale of the disaster, Morocco’s King Mohammed VI ordered the armed forces to mobilize specialized search-and-rescue teams and a surgical field hospital, according to a statement from the military.

The king said he would visit the hardest-hit area on Saturday, but despite an outpouring of offers of help from around the world, the Moroccan government had not formally asked for assistance — a step required before outside rescue crews could deploy.

The epicentre of Friday’s tremor was near the town of Ighil in Al Haouz Province, roughly 70 kilometres south of Marrakech. Al Haouz is known for scenic villages and valleys tucked in the High Atlas.

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Police, emergency vehicles and people fleeing in shared taxis spent hours traversing unpaved roads through the High Atlas in a stop-and-go manner, often exiting their cars to help clear giant boulders from routes known to be rugged and difficult long before Friday’s earthquake.

In Ijjoukak, a village in the area surrounding Toubkal, North Africa’s tallest peak, residents estimated nearly 200 buildings had been levelled.

Couch cushions, electric cords and grapes were strewn in giant piles of rubble alongside dead sheep, house plants and leaning doors wedged between boulders. Relatives from the town and those who had driven from major cities cried while they wondered who to call as they reckoned with the aftermath and a lack of food and water.

“It felt like a bomb went off,” 34-year-old Mohamed Messi said.

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Morocco will observe three days of national mourning with flags at half-mast on all public facilities, the official news agency MAP reported.

World offers help

World leaders offered to send aid or rescue crews as condolences poured in from the G20 summit in India, countries around Europe, the Mideast and beyond.

Turkey, where powerful earthquakes in February killed more than 50,000 people, said it was ready to provide support. France and Germany, with large populations of people of Moroccan origin, also offered to help.

In an exceptional move, neighbouring Algeria offered to open its airspace to allow eventual humanitarian aid or medical evacuation flights to travel to and from Morocco.

Algeria closed the airspace when its government severed diplomatic ties with Morocco in 2021 over a series of issues. The countries have a decades-long dispute involving the territory of Western Sahara.

The U.S. Geological Survey said the quake had a preliminary magnitude of 6.8 when it hit at 11:11 p.m. local time, with shaking that lasted several seconds.

The U.S. agency reported that a 4.9-magnitude aftershock hit 19 minutes later. The collision of the African and Eurasian tectonic plates occurred at a relatively shallow depth, which makes a quake more dangerous.

Earthquakes are relatively rare in North Africa. Lahcen Mhanni, head of the Seismic Monitoring and Warning Department at the National Institute of Geophysics, told 2M TV that the earthquake was the strongest ever recorded in the region.

In 1960, a 5.8-magnitude tremor struck near the Moroccan city of Agadir, causing thousands of deaths. That quake prompted changes in construction rules in Morocco, but many buildings — especially rural homes — are not built to withstand such tremors.

In 2004, a 6.4-magnitude earthquake near the Mediterranean coastal city of Al Hoceima left more than 600 dead.

Friday’s quake was felt as far away as Portugal and Algeria.

ABC News

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Africa

Guinean Military Junta Dissolves Government, Seals Country’s Borders

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Guinea’s military junta, which took power through a coup in September 2021, has officially dissolved the government, as announced via a presidential decree read on state TV by the presidency’s Secretary General, Brig Gen Amara Camara.

The announcement was not followed by details regarding the rationale of this dissolution, or the timeline for establishing a new government.

As part of the dissolution, ministers in the now-dissolved government have been instructed to surrender their passports and official vehicles, and also given directives for their bank accounts to be frozen.

The junta has also directed security agencies to “seal” all of Guinea’s borders until the complete handover of government ministries to the junta.

According to Camara, during the interim period until a new government is appointed, lower-level officials will manage state ministries.

The dissolved government, led by Prime Minister Bernard Goumou, was appointed by coup leader Mamady Doumbouya, who led Guinea’s armed forces in overthrowing elected President Alpha Condé in September 2021. The coup came after a series of protests against Condé’s controversial bid for a third term.

Guinea, as well as several other countries in West and central Africa, including Mali, Burkina Faso, Niger, and Gabon, have experienced coups in recent years. These coups have faced strong condemnation from West Africa’s regional bloc ECOWAS, the African Union, and the UN.

The junta and ECOWAS had earlier set a 24-month transition period, and Guinea is expected to hold elections to restore democratic rule within 10 months, as the transition period comes to an end.

Arise News

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Africa

Thabo Mbeki Not Dead, Foundation Confirms

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Former President of South Africa, Thabo Mbeki, is well and alive. This was confirmed by the Thabo Mbeki Foundation, following reports that he was dead.

Even his Wikipedia profile page was updated to reflect the hoax.

In a statement on Wednesday, The Thabo Mbeki Foundation said: “We urge the public to rely on official channels for accurate information about President Mbeki’s well-being and activities.”

Recall that there was a similar death report during the COVID-19 pandemic in 2021. Also, the Foundation came out to debunk it then.

Mbeki succeeded the country’s first black president, Nelson Mandela. He served as the President of South Africa from 1999 to 2008.

He is respected for his intellectual approach to governance, and his contributions to post-Apatheid South Africa.

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Africa

Diplomatic Breach: AfDB Directs International Staff in Ethiopia to Leave Country, Work Remotely

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By Dolapo Aina

In a statement issued and made public on Wednesday, the 20th of December 2023, the African Development Bank has decided to withdraw all its international staff from Ethiopia immediately. The office will remain open under an Officer-in-Charge. These measures will not affect nationally recruited staff from Ethiopia who will continue their work and remain in the full employment of the Bank. The Bank will assure them and their families of its duty of care.

The institution stated that: “These decisions follow the recent breach of diplomatic protocol and assault by Ethiopian security forces on two of the African Development Bank’s international members of staff. Specifically, on the 31st of October 2023, two Addis Ababa based staff were unlawfully arrested, physically assaulted, and detained for hours without charge or any official explanation. This was a gross violation of their personal diplomatic immunities, rights, and privileges under the African Development Bank Group’s Host Country Agreement with the Government of the Federal Democratic Republic of Ethiopia. On learning of the incident, the African Development Bank President Dr Akinwumi Adesina immediately contacted the highest levels of authority in the Ethiopian government, following which the Bank’s two staff members were released.”

The statement also stated that: “The African Development Bank formally communicated with the government of Ethiopia through an official note verbale on 6 November requesting a full and transparent investigation into the incident. Dr Adesina also sent a high-level delegation of Bank officials led by its Senior Vice President to Addis Ababa on 22 November to engage with senior Ethiopian authorities on the matter and to meet with Bank staff in the Ethiopia Office in Addis Ababa.”

The Bank President Dr Adesina said, “the assessment from the Bank’s delegation indicates that the situation is still not yet resolved in a satisfactory manner. It also does not provide full confidence that all the African Development Bank’s employees feel safe and secure to carry out their duties and move around the country without fear of harassment. The African Development Bank remains particularly concerned that the Ethiopian government has, to date, not shared with the Bank any report, or details of investigations into the incident.”
President Adesina stated that: “The October incident continues to cause much anxiety across the African Development Bank Group and especially among staff at the Ethiopia country office. The incident has also raised concerns among the Bank’s shareholders, other multilateral development banks, international financial institutions, the broader diplomatic community, and other stakeholders.” President Adesina further emphasised that the African Development Bank will do everything possible to ensure the safety and security of its personnel, and the protection of their rights and privileges in the conduct of their work. The Bank’s international staff in Ethiopia will work remotely outside the country until the findings of the government investigations into the grave incident are transparently shared with the Bank, and full details of the measures taken to bring the guilty parties to book are made public.

President Adesina reiterated that: “While the Bank appreciates the excellent relations it has with Ethiopia until this egregious incident, its continued operations and future presence in the country could be negatively affected if the incident is not fully resolved.”

I reached out to the African Development Bank’s President’s Senior Advisor (Communication) in the person of Dr Victor Oladokun on the identities and nationalities of the bank’s international staff who were manhandled by the security forces of Ethiopia. The bank’s official response goes thus: “To protect the privacy of the affected members of staff (and the privacy of their families) their identities will not be disclosed at this time. Suffice to say, the Bank is providing both staff members and all the local AfDB staff in Addis Ababa, with the necessary support they need at this time.”

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